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Thursday Group visit Museum of London

10 Feb

The Thursday group of older Woodies met at Old Street station in the rain today and walked to Whitecross Street, an old haunt of mine near the Barbican. We lunched in a fish and chip establishment, then walked thru the Barbican complex to the museum. I’d been before but some time ago, and last year’s visit by this group was postponed because they were refurbishing the museum.

I went ahead of most of the group inside the museum as I’m not really that interested in old axes and flints, skeletons and pieces of broken pottery. When you’re an old ruin yourself and you live amongst them it makes a change to see something a bit more complete and serviceable.

So I moved quickly thru the Roman and medieval eras to the Victorian and 20th/21st Century ones. These areas I found most interesting, especially the reproduction of old shops, including a barber shop. The old-style Woolworths with its counter compartments and red and white labels (predating the red and yellow ones even) had been removed, but there were plenty of other things to see.

In the 20th Century area there were some notable gaps. A corner devoted to the Suffragette movement, but nothing (except one peace/CND sign) for the big anti-nuclear and peace movement of the latter part of the century.

The Festival of Britain was featured with a reproduction of the Skylon and some slides. Such a pity as I could have supplied the museum with a mint copy of the Festival of Britain brochure had the flat of two friends of mine not been cleared out by professional house clearers just last year.

In fact the 1950s were very poorly represented. A few dresses/suits, one skiffle book featuring The Vipers and some children’s programs on an old TV set. Not a mention of rock’n'roll and its stars or of Teddy boys, which were a part of the London scene. This is, after all, where Jerry Lee Lewis’s promising career took a nosedive in 1958. Also where fans mobbed Bill Haley’s train when it arrived at Waterloo station.

Instead they moved quickly on to the 1960s with Beatlemania type exhibits and a quotation from a politician who claimed teenage phenomena like Mods and Rockers only came about because of the abolition of National Service. He did not explain why Teddy boy gangs roamed parts of London and other cities in the 1950s, when National Service was still in force.

All-in-all an interesting museum, but I’d have liked to have seen more about the modern city. The effect of the Green Belt after the Second World War for instance, about Metroland before the War and the contraction of the London Underground system which used to reach far flung places like Aylesbury and Verney Junction in Buckinghamshire and Ongar in Essex.

I did take some time to study the huge aerial photo-map of Greater London and its surroundings in the lobby. Most interesting to see how places like Hoddesdon, Watford and Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, Dartford in Kent and Woking in Surrey are now definitely part of the London conurbation. Despite the Green Belt, these towns are all now linked to London by ribbon development. A fate places like St Albans, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, among others, only avoid by a few fields separating them.

The developments in Central London were also poorly represented, such as The Shard now being constructed at London Bridge and other planned new skyscrapers. Instead there was a futuristic section devoted to London after a disastrous flood with a shanty town in Hyde Park and around Buckingham Palace, and windmills in a flooded Piccadilly Circus.

This museum could have more exhibits and representations of 20th/21st Century London, and needs to be combined with a visit to the London Transport museum in Covent Garden to get a fuller picture of the city in recent times.

I was fascinated, however, to learn that London, called Londinium by the Romans, was renamed Lundenberg by the Vikings, which sounds very Germanic (or Danish I guess). I’m still trying to get used to Leningrad reverting to St Petersburg, and wondering why they preferred the Germanic name to Petrograd, the Russian name of the city before Lenin’s death. As far as London is concerned I hope the name doesn’t change again, though its boundaries may well do so.

Places like Croydon, Romford, Bromley, Richmond, Sutton, Barnet and Orpington have long been just suburbs of London and now places like Hoddesdon, Woking, Watford and Dartford might have to get used to the same status. They should all be proud to be part of the sprawling metropolis which is London. Places like Southend-on-Sea, Medway Towns, Slough and Windsor only have the Green Belt to deprive them of this honor, or save them from this fate, whichever way you like to look at it! Meanwhile inner suburbs like Clapham Junction where I live insist on calling themselves ‘towns’ when they are, in fact, merely suburbs or shopping centers.

London as a metropolis has been in danger of losing its identity as a city since Thatcher abolished the GLC. The GLA which eventually replaced it has not managed to regain the Greater London identity since so much authority has since been devolved to the various London boroughs.

But London is a real city with a big and thriving center, unlike Los Angeles for instance which has been described as a collection of suburbs in search of a city.

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